Cholera Controls Extend to Cuban Capital

from Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Published on 24 Dec 2012 View Original

Precautions in place in Havana's old town.

By Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez - Latin America

A rise in cholera cases in the Cuban capital Havana is being traced back to parts of the country worst affected by Hurricane Sandy two months ago.

Doctors who have recorded new cases of the disease during house-to-house inspections say the health ministry has declared a state of alert in the Jesús María and Belén communities of Habana Vieja municipality.

Habana Vieja – Old Havana – is a popular tourist area in the city centre.

“They’ve found 47 cases in Habana Vieja municipality,” said a doctor, who requested anonymity. “Thirty-three of them originate from the eastern provinces.”

The implication is that the individuals carrying cholera may have contracted it in Cuba’s eastern regions as a result of the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy in late October.

Standing water is an ideal breeding-ground for cholera, an intestinal disease transmitted by contaminated liquid and food, and many cases have been reported in provinces like Holguín, Santiago de Cuba, Las Tunas and Guantánamo. (See Disease Spreads in Post-Hurricane Cuba.)

The authorities have taken steps to address the new cases in Havana by setting up specialist hospital wards, cleaning up streets and buildings in the Jesús María and Belén communities, and distributing medicines that prevent dehydration.

Health staff have been driving around Old Havana issuing notifications by loudspeaker, telling people what precautions to take, urging them not to try to cure themselves, and announcing training sessions where medical staff will be taught how to contain the “epidemic”.

The authorities are also taking action to stop sales of food that fall short of health and hygiene standards, according to a health worker involved in the cholera identification and public information campaign in Habana Vieja municipality.

All the same, the health worker said, he feared “rising numbers of cases”.

A local doctor said he suspected the government was holding off on officially announcing a cholera outbreak because it might deter tourists from visiting Havana’s old town.

In eastern Cuba, the authorities are continuing to take steps to deal with cholera. In Holguin province, doctors at the Vladimir Lenin Hospital say they are admitting three to five new cases a day.

The rising incidence is a cause for concern for Holguín residents like Efraín Méndez, who says that while the health authorities are acting to curb the spread of cholera, they are not providing enough information to the public.

Méndez said the authorities had placed two of Holguín’s municipalities, Mayari and Moa, under quarantine because of the number of cholera sufferers in need of medical help. They were also imposing large fines on black-market traders in seafood and vegetables, as substandard products can help the disease spread.

Information provided by Hablemos Press and independent journalist Lisbán Hernández.

This article first appeared on IWPR's website.